Jamie looked around nervously. The alleyway was deserted: no one was there. He silently let out a relieved breath. He was safe for now, the Black Scorpion gang wouldn't look for him here.
He couldn't understand why they wanted him. He was only a runt in these streets. He hardly found enough in the streets to keep him alive. Even now he felt the pangs of hunger and the weakness that came from little to no food. Jamie had learned to ignore it like he had ignored everything about his condition. It was his life. The most he could do was try to do something about it and even that wasn't much. If he were to look for a job, the shopkeepers around here would take one look at him and throw him out of the store as fast as one could say "Boo!" So he scrounged for food wherever he can and survived only for the next day.
His feet moved tiredly to the U-haul box that was his bed in the alleyway. It was littered with newspaper and a very thin blanket – his own efforts to keep his body warm at night. There were others already sleeping in nearby boxes and just plain on the floor. It was a pitiful sight, but this was his life, and so he had learned to ignore other people's plight because he was in the same boat. Jamie kneeled down and arranged his pile of newspapers and blanket to his liking before he made to lie down on the bed.
"I don't think so," a soft but clear, male voice said from behind him. "Do you know how hard it is to find you? It took quite some time before my boys could find any trace of you again."
Jamie stiffened in surprise. He was so sure that they didn't know his sleeping place and they wouldn't find him here. How naïve he was to think so. The Black Scorpion was a very elite gang and they had sources that no one knew about. How could he be so stupid?
"Come now," the voice continued from behind him. "Why do you run away? I thought that people wanted to join my gang? Most of them were certainly most eager, when given the opportunity."
"I can take care of myself," Jamie said in the same soft voice. "I don't want to be in a gang. People like me join a gang only because they don't want the responsibility of looking after their own lives. I can take care of mine well enough. I don't need the help of a gang."
"Is that what you think gangs are all about?" the voice asked in amusement.
"There are plenty more reasons why people would join a gang," Jamie told him. "But I don't think that I would still want to join you when all is said and done."
"Can you honestly say that you like your life as it is now?" the male voice asked.
This time, it sounded closer. Too close for comfort, but still Jamie didn't move. He looked down at the pile of newspapers and blanket. No, he couldn't honestly say that he liked his life. But what was there to say. Some people were more lucky than others.
"…No," Jamie said after awhile. "But this is my life."
"You don't like to be a charity case, is that it?" the voice asked. "How about this, you become one of my people, and I can outfit you with decent clothes and food. You can look for a job however you like and pay me back later. How's that?"
Jamie frowned. "Why are you desperate to make me join? What happens when I say no? Will you kill me? Torture me until I agree? Why?"
"My reasons are my own. But I can promise you that you will be treated well within the gang. Won't you come willingly? I don't want to have to use drastic measures," the voice said cajolingly.
Jamie felt that he knew why they would want him, but he pushed that reason away. No, it could not be why they would want him, but what other reason would there be. Could it be that his secret was finally out? He pushed himself off the ground, back still to the voice, sighing as he did so, as if he was going to give in. Jamie could practically feel the anticipation from the one behind him. He said one word, his voice soft but firm, unyielding in it's decision and not about to change it anytime soon.
He took off, not looking behind him once. He didn't get very far before he was tackled down with such force that it left him winded. Jamie struggled to get out of the man's grip on him but didn't succeed at all.
"Now! Quicly!" the same male voice said into the shadows.
Some one came out from the shadows, wearing a Black Scorpion badge, holding a needle in his hand.
"NO!" Jamie screamed. "Let me go!"
"I told you," the man holding him captive said, "That I would have to use drastic measure if you would not come willingly."
Jamie struggled harder. The man did not let up, his grip turning tighter and more painful, holding Jamie's hands and sitting on his legs. A needle was stuck into his neck and Jamie felt the drug being pushed into the system. He was frantic but at the same time he felt himself start to weaken and the world began to blur.
"No…" He gasped one last time before he knew nothing more.
The man that was holding Jamie got up and off him and hauled him onto his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.
"Come," was all he said to his men.
"Why do you want him so much, Kieran?" one of his men asked.
"He has a special gift that would be useful to us, if only he would cooperate," the man known as Kieran told him.
"That and the boss fancies him," a British voice said in amusement.
Kieran grinned. "Among the other reasons."
"He's reluctant thought and if he's reluctant, he won't stay long. He'll run," someone else said as they walked back into their base, no one even giving them a glance of suspicion for the unconscious figure on Kieran's shoulder.
"We'll see," Kieran only said. "After all, we are not who we really are. Maybe he will stay when he finds out that he is not so unlike us. He has been lonely for so long. It might do him some good. We were not meant to be alone."
"That we weren't," the British man agreed softly.
Jamie woke up in a bed, feeling surprisingly clean and refreshed. It was an unusual feeling. That and the fact that he was not supposed to be here. He stared around the room, looking for a guard or someone. When he found no one, he moved to get out of bed, but realized in that split second that he was naked. He stiffened in surprise. Jamie frantically looked around for his clothes but found only an apparently new pair of jeans and shirt along with boxers on the bedside table by him. His clothes were gone.
Hesitantly, he picked the blue boxers up and looked at it. It was a brand name. An American Eagle boxers. This was getting more awkward by the minute: he just wished that he had his clothing back. Sighing, he got out of bed and put on the boxers, jeans and t-shirt. The jeans were a regular blue and it fit him like a second skin, while the t-shirt was black with a gold dragon in a spiral in the middle of it. It figures. Everything fitted perfectly.
Looking around, he saw a door. Jamie approached it barefooted and turned the knob. It was locked.
"Ah, you're awake," a pleased male voice said from behind him.
Jamie whirled around in surprise. There was no one here before. How did he get in? He saw that the man was the same one from the night before. He recognized the face and the voice. His body was tense, his face showed his anger at being taken against his will.
"Where is this place?" Jamie demanded, "And you never introduced yourself last night when we had that oh so revealing talk."
The man's gold-hazel eyes looked at him in amusement, a corner of his mouth turned up in a half smile, his arms folded across his chest standing there unconcernedly.
"I'm Kieran, leader of the Black Scorpions," the man told him. "And this is my base."
Jamie's eyes widened in shock. This was the leader of the Black Scorpions? He had been talking to the leader all last night?
"And you have been asleep for two days," the man added, obviously assuming that Jamie would want to know how long he had been out.
"Two days?" Jamie asked in a dazed voice. "Why do you want me so much? I'm not the kind of people that you normally recruit."
"Only because their situation was different from yours," Kieran told him in a quiet voice, his eyes told Jamie that he was serious now.
"How?" Jamie asked in a tired voice. "I'm no different from all those orphans wandering around in the streets."
"Ah, but you are different, Jamie. And you know it," Kieran said in a light voice.
"I don't know what you mean," Jamie told him, meeting the man's eyes with his sky blue ones, never blinking once at the lie. "What do you mean by different?"
Kieran drops his arms from where they were at his chest and walked the length of the room to Jamie, a hand coming up to rest on top of Jamie's heart.
"You know what I mean," Kieran said softly, "This, Jamie."
A clear electric-like shock struck his heart, stunning Jamie, making him lean his onto the door, his hands trying to find purchase. Jamie hadn't felt such a connection in a long time. Dimly, he remembered the last time he had felt that was when his parents were still alive. They had always been there for him. Until that fateful day when he was six and they died in a car crash. It had been too long. So long that he had forgotten how it had felt. And now that he had, he suddenly realized what it was that he had felt missing all those years. The feeling of companionship and belonging that people with his gifts needed. He slid slowly to the floor and sat there in a daze his eyes glazed from the feelings that were coursing through him.
"Jamie?" Kieran asked, kneeling on the floor in front of him, his face frowning in concern.
Jamie gave a strangled sob, hands coming up to grasp Kieran's shirt front tightly, as if trying to anchor himself from the emotions he was feeling through his body. Kieran's hands came up and pulled Jamie towards him.
"Sshhh," Kieran soothed. "Let it out now. Everything's going to be alright again. Let it out."
And Jamie cried into Kieran's shirt, the man holding him and soothing him in a gentle voice, all the time running a hand up and down the younger man's back in a calming gesture. Gradually, his cries got less violent and it turned into sobs. And when that stopped, there was silence.
A little while later, Kieran put a hand under Jamie's chin to make him look at Kieran in the eyes. "Better now?" Kieran asked in a normal voice.
Jamie nodded, not trusting himself to speak just yet, his face tear streaked, blue eyes still glistening from past tears. The hand left his chin to stroke his hair soothingly and Jamie burrowed into Kieran's chest, just needing to be held, the connection letting him feel connected back to someone with the gift.
The feeling of such rightness, and contentedness, finally put him back to sleep. That and the hand running soothingly in his hair. Jamie never felt himself being shifted and put back on the bed, gentle hands covering him up in the soft and warm blankets. He never felt the kiss on his forehead or the silent "Good night, Jamie." Before the door closed silently behind the leader of the Black Scorpion gang.
Jamie woke up in the strange bed again. This time, unlike before, the windows showed that it was morning outside, instead of night. He got up and looked around the room, looking for someone, anyone, just to rationalize that he was not alone. He didn't want to feel alone again. Not after what he had experienced not so long before with Kieran. It would only be too cruel if he was. He threw back the covers in a sense of urgency and tried the door again. It was locked, like before. Jamie looked behind him, hoping like before, that the man would appear suddenly. There was no such luck. Jamie barely stifled a sob of distress. Would they never let him out again?
He pounded frantically on the door. "Let me out!" he shouted through the door. "Please! Let me out!" Jamie kept on pounding and shouting through the door, but it was all in vain. No one answered him back. No one was coming for him. What Kieran had shown him was only a way to get him to break. And now that he had, no one was coming anyway. Jamie slid down the door and curled into himself, tears streaming down his face as he cried silently, his sobs wracking his whole body.
Jamie knew that he shouldn't be crying, but he couldn't help himself. To be denied companionship right after what Kieran had showed him. He tried to stop himself from crying, but he only found himself sobbing all the harder. He felt like his heart was breaking. Jamie couldn't understand it. He had been bereft of this since his parents died. But now, he couldn't even live without this feeling. What was wrong with that picture?
It was how Kieran found him when he went in the room to check on his sleeping guest: on the floor, body wracked with his crying. Kieran was instantly by his side, face frowning in concern.
"Jamie?" Kieran said. "Jamie, why are you crying?"
"L-l-let m-me out!" Jamie stuttered through his sobs. "W-why won't y-y-you l-let me o-out?"
"Oh, Jamie," Kieran said, gathering the younger man into his arms and rocking him in a soothing manner again. "We'll get out of here if you want to. The door won't be locked again. I promise."
And just like that, they were in some type of garden, sitting on an ornately carved grey stone bench. The sun was out and the flowers were in full bloom, the season being spring. Jamie's sobs subsided as he saw that he was finally being let out, but he didn't relinquish his hold on Kieran's shirt, his head still more or less buried in his chest.
"Come on, see the flowers," Kieran said in a cheerful voice. "See the roses are out and the petunias. What's your favorite color for a flower, Jamie?"
"R-red," Jamie muttered into his shirt.
"Well," Kieran told him, "we always have red colored roses here, and there are some red petunias that Mr. Stevens our gardener, has planted."
Jamie lifted his face up to look, peering tentatively over Kieran's shoulder. It really was beautiful. He once again wondered where in the world Kieran's base was. It seemed like a world removed from the streets he used to live in.
A wet towel magically appeared in Kieran's hand. He turned Jamie's face to him and gently wiped his face clean of tear streaks. Jamie tried to get out of the cleaning but Kieran was having none of it, holding his chin firmly with his hand to prevent him from moving.
"At least your face doesn't puff up like a balloon when you cry," Kieran said lightly, his hazel eyes looking at Jamie in amusement. "You can meet the others immediately without mishaps."
"Sorry," Jamie muttered to him.
"Sorry?" Kieran asked, confused. "For what?"
"Your shirt," Jamie said, not looking at him. "It's wet and ruined now."
"It's only a shirt, Jamie," Kieran told him in a gentle voice. "I can always get a new one."
"B-but," Jamie stuttered, looking up at him in astonishment. "It's silk and it's expensive!"
"So?" Kieran asked him with a raised eyebrow. "You'll find that around here, we value lives more than personal possession. We need companionship more than anything. We can do without televisions if we have to, or even the use of a cell phone or books or gold and whatever else this century holds for technology. All we need is our people, and we are content. Clothes are nothing."
"Oh," Jamie only said.
"Come on," Kieran told him. "Let me show you the others. I'm sure they're hanging around here somewhere."
He gently nudged Jamie off his lap, standing up with his guest. He took Jamie's hand and led him out of the gardens. Jamie frowned, but let himself be led off into somewhere within the obviously big castle like structure.
"Where is this place?" Jamie asked curiosly.
"Don't you know?" Kieran asked in surprise. "Why don't you give a guess?"
"This is not New York," Jamie told him in a matter-of-fact voice. "I don't know where else this place is. The Black Scorpions are based in New York. It can't be far from it. But I know this place can't be New York. It's too…magical. Mystical. It doesn't fit New York anymore than Camelot does."
"Did your parents never tell you a thing?" Kieran asked in growing wonder and surprise that he was so ignorant about such a thing. "Or did you never have one?"
"No," Jamie said, shaking his head. "I was six when they died. Too young for them to tell me of something or such import."
"Ah," Kieran said sighing, his face showing a sadness that Jamie had not seen on it before. "I will tell you about it then."
"This is an alternate dimension only those with the gift can enter. Or those that we choose to take with us. It is called Valleria for freedom in our tongue. I will teach you that as well. This place is a place for all the gifted to come to when they are overwhelmed from the world beyond. It is a place where it is – for the most – always spring. A place of paradise, I suppose you might say. We all have our separate territories in this place. In a way, Valleria is like the opposite side of that world you were at before. It overlaps right on top of it. I am in charge of New York. I find any of the gifted within New York, and bring them into the fold, be they the President of the United States, down to the lowliest street urchin. All are welcome here. All answer to me in New York. For other places, there are other leaders for the gifted, each with their own territories. Within my territory, there are others who are in charge of the smaller parts of that place. They go and bring back their news of this place and that. It is much like any business," Kieran told him as they walked the hallways of the castle.
"The place you are living in is my castle. All my people live here," Kieran continued, "Families have their own apartments, the bachelors to one side, the ladies to another, the married to one. There are many levels, and not all of them are living quarters. The place is bigger than it seems."
"And in time, you will come to know your way around this place, like everyone of us before you."
The last was not said by Kieran at all. It was a new voice that said that. Jamie whirled around to see who it was. He found a smallish woman standing in the hallway, with a pile of laundry held in one hand hitched at the hip.
"Jamie, meet Syllia," Kieran told Jamie in a warm voice. "She can be thought of as the mistress of this castle, for she all but runs it on her own two feet. I don't know what I would do if it wasn't for her here running the place."
"Oh, posh," Syllia retorted. "You'd have found someone else to look it after for you. Don't mind him. He's all bark but no bite."
"I haven't been anything of that sort," Kieran protested.
"If this one give you any trouble," Syllia told Jamie, giving him a conspirator's wink as she did so, "You come and tell me. I'll have a word with him."
Kieran scowled at her. Jamie couldn't help but give a giggle, a grin showing up on his normally solemn face.
"That's more like it," Syllia told him. "You should smile more. It does you good."
With those wise words, she left the two alone once more, going off to do some laundry. Kieran once again took Jamie's hand and led him down the hallways.
"Where are we going?" Jamie asked him in curiosity.
"To the practicing grounds," Kieran told him. "How else do you think my men are so fit? They practice there daily before venturing into the world below us."
"Is earth below us? Is that why you call it that?" Jamie wondered.
"Something like that," Kieran said, smiling at him. "We're nearly there. Can you hear the men shouting?"
Jamie nodded, giving a small half smile. "It's noisy."
"Yes. They are, aren't they?"
Jamie met with Kieran's men. They all had a personality of their own. They were different from what he had come to expect from men who were involved in gangs. And the best of all was that they accepted him into their ranks as with a snap of their fingers. It left Jamie in a daze.
"You look bemused," one of the men told him.
"I – this is all so new," Jamie said. "And you all take me in just like that. I – I don't understand. What's so special about me?"
They laughed, although it was kind laughter instead of one ridiculing him.
"Each of us are unique of our own right," they told him. "If you are looking for something specific, you can look to our gifts. And yet, it is not that, little Jamie."
"It does not matter that you are an orphan and you beg in the streets for your daily earning," Kieran tried to tell him again. "You are one of us and that is all that matters. We take you in for who you are, not who we want you to be. It would not be you we would be seeing if we put you in flashy clothes and told you to kill. It would not be you at all. And we would not know you. And we don't want that."
"Do you understand yet?" one of the men asked. "You can be yourself here, without fear of condemnation. We do not care what race you come from, what sexual orientation you are, what eye color you have, - we don't care of any of those things. It is enough that you are recognized as one of us."
"What if I really don't have that gift?" Jamie asked, frowning in puzzlement.
"Is that what you're really worried about?" Kieran asked teasingly, his head bent close to Jamie's. "Would you like to test it? I know what you have. It will be easy to prove it to you."
"W-what is it I have then?" Jamie asked defensively, a frown on his face, body tense.
"Stand in front of Shay here while the others set up the arena. We will all show you what you are capable of," Kieran told him, nudging him into place. "I will be among them. Do not be afraid, what you are going to do. You are unique all by yourself."
Kieran went to a wall and pressed the button that was there. All around the practice grounds, walls appeared from the floor, rising up high over the men's heads until Jamie couldn't see them at all. In Shay's hands appeared a set of weapons, a dagger and a short sword. Jamie stared at them and then at Shay, perplexed. Shay handed them to him, handle first.
"You are to fight," Shay told him in a quiet and calm voice. "Do not be afraid, you will read the men's movements and be able to block them. The men will not hurt you. This is just a test, not a fight to the death. Be at peace."
With those words, Shay disappeared into the maze, leaving Jamie alone in the middle with the weapons in his hands. He stared at them and at the maze. Was this supposed to prove his gift? Jamie finally sighed and picked the left fork to walk through.
Instantly, he was confronted with one of the men holding a pair of daggers in his hands. The man saw him and sprung into action. Jamie had not time to think; he just reacted. The hand holding the short sword came up to block the upward motion of the man's left hand and the other blocked the right. Then, quick as thought, he moved the sword to slash at the man's middle, although he didn't aim to cut. The man dodged it and left through a left fork.
Jamie stood there stunned. He never thought that he would be able to fight like that. And yet, he seemed to have the gift to do that as natural as can be. Was this what his gift was? To be able to read a man's actions to counteract it before he was skewered alive? Jamie scowled. He took the next fork that he saw.
There was another man. He made short work of him as well, all with the seeming ease of long practice. The next one he saw, Jamie was able to read the man's thoughts. He heard them as loud as a CD player. It was unnerving, and it gave him a headache, making Jamie loose what balance he had while fighting the man. He cried out in pain, dropping his weapons and clutching at his head, willing the sounds to go away, but it only seemed to intensify.
"Little Jamie?" the man asked uncertainly, kneeling by his side. "What is it?"
I hope that I haven't done anything to him. Bossman's gonna kill me. What do I do?
"Voices," Jamie moaned, curling into himself on the floor, "Make the voices go away."
The man tried to touch him but it made the voices go louder, like a very loud boombox in his head. Jamie screamed. Dimly he heard people shouting in the background. He couldn't take much more. It was getting to overwhelming.
"Boss!" the man shouted. "Something's wrong! Boss! You need to get here!"
In answer, the walls started to lower down back into the floor. The other men saw him with Jamie down on the floor and were confused as to what was happening momentarily.
Kieran was instantly by their side, asking his man rapid fire questions.
"What happened?" Kieran asked him.
"We were fighting," the man told him, "And all of a sudden, he goes down as if he was hit. He held his head like he's been hit there. I swear I didn't touch a hair of him though. He was too good for that to happen. And when I tried to touch him, he screamed."
Jamie was still moaning, nearly unconscious. Kieran reached out a hand to touch Jamie hesitantly. Nothing seemed to happen. Jamie felt someone touch his shoulder at the back of his head. He almost shied away from it because the man's touch had only made it worse. But this one, he knew instantly that it was a different person. He knew exactly who it was without looking, and his touch soothed him and made the voices go away, however fleetingly.
"Jamie?" Kieran asked hesitantly. "Can you hear me, Jamie?"
Jamie looked up through his pain filled head and saw Kieran. He instantly latched onto the man, finding relief in his touch. Kieran held him securely in his arms and stood up, looking at his men as he did so. They were looking at him and Jamie in concern.
"I think I know what the problem is," Kieran said in a calm voice. "Garrett, you have mindspeech do you not?"
"Yes, I do," the man in question told him, his expression clearly said that he now understood what was going on.
"Good," their leader told him. "You will be able to teach him how to shield his mind from all those thoughts floating around in the air. It is not a very pleasant sensation from what you have told me."
"No, it is not. I am lucky that my parents had taught me how to shield before I was ever let out," the man told Kieran dryly. "Little Jamie here is lucky that this gift did not manifest itself in the world below us. It would have been devastating then."
"Come, little one," Kieran told Jamie, carrying him and sitting him on a stone bench similar to the one in the garden. "You must learn how to shield from Garrett here. He has the same gift as if, if not similar. Once you learn it, you will not hear everybody's unguarded thoughts."
"Close your eyes," Garrett told Jamie, crouching down beside Kieran, "Close your eyes and calm down. Breathe in deep, hold it until the count of six, let it go, hold it for the count of six. Now do it again. Push all your thoughts away, clear your mind. Think of your center. You must find it for this to work. That's it. You can find it, take all the time. Keep your breathing up. You're doing well. There, you found it?"
Jamie nodded, eyes closed. He could see it inside him, a little ball of golden light, wondrous to his eyes. Little tendrils of light flowed out of the ball to all parts of his body, making it work.
"Build a wall around your center," Garrett continued in his soothing voice. "Any wall, but a wall of your own choosing. You want it to keep thoughts out, to not let them in. Yes, that's it. Now do it a few more times. There you go. Open your eyes."
All this time that Garrett was giving his instructions, Kieran hadn't let go of Jamie's hand. He held it, as Jamie was given instructions on how to block out the thoughts of other peoples. Now, he slowly let go of Jamie's hand. Jamie's hands tightened around his, not wanting to let go of his hold on the man's hand.
"Let go, Jamie," Kieran said gently. "You will be fine."
Jamie reluctantly released Kieran's hands, one fingertip at a time. He was tense and scared.
"You'll be fine," Kieran said in a soothing voice.
When he had fully let go of Kieran's hand, the two men waited anxiously for Jamie to say something, or relax.
"I – I can't hear anything anymore!" Jamie said, his eyes looking at Garrett and Kieran in wonder. "It doesn't hurt anymore."
Both men smiled at him reassuringly. "Told you that would do it," Garrett said. "But you'll have to maintain it for it to work."
"And the fighting?" Jamie asked.
"You'll always have it," Kieran told him. "It doesn't go away, these things. Not unless someone was to drain you so bad that it hampers your ability to use it. Even then, it is rare that it will be forever."
Jamie's stomach growled embarrassingly. He blushed as the other two laughed at him.
"Hungry I see," Garrett said. "Come, we will show you where we take our sup in this place."
Jamie frowned. "You talk different. Is this how you all talk in this place? Just here? Because people from below would probably stare at you if you talk like that there."
"This is how we talk little one," Garrett told him. "Although when we go down, we curb it a little."
"Does that mean everyone here talks like that?" Jamie asked curiously. "New Yorkers sure don't talk like that. But someone from the Middle Ages would."
"How old do you think I am?" Garrett asked, grinning.
Jamie frowned at him. "You can't be that old. Unless you happen to be like an elf and age slower than us. Which is really unlikely."
"Hah!" Kieran shouted successfully, holding his hand out in a gleeful manner. "You owe me twenty dollars!"
Garrett grumbled as he handed it over
"I told you that you wouldn't be able to fool him into thinking that we would be able to live that long," Kieran told Garrett. "Jamie's a bright one, even if he comes from the streets."
Jamie had to laugh at them. He had to wonder though if the other men held different bets about him as well. Was he such that they did these things?
They took him to a hall that was filled with tables and tables along with benches on both sides. It was not unlike a cafeteria but it was larger. To one side of the hallway, there was a long window that reached from one end to the other. Behind it were cooks and helpers handing out the daily servings of food. People were coming in and going out all the time for something to eat and going back to whatever they were doing. There was a lot of people. Apparently it was time for lunch.
"You missed breakfast what with all the things that were happening this morning," Kieran said to him. "I bet you're really hungry right about now."
"Oh, you just heard my stomach growling because I wanted a diversion," Jamie said sarcastically, making a face as he did so.